Slaughter (hospital name John Lambert) is F3 Nation’s new Nantan and CEO. Married for 15 years with a 20-year-old stepdaughter, Slaughter first hit the Gloom in F3 Metro in 2012 and has been a constant presence there ever since. He succeeds F3 co-founder Dredd, of course, and leaves his former role of Chief Operating Officer. Slaughter spoke with F3 St. Louis’s Ralph, a freelance magazine writer.
Ralph: Let’s start with basic bio stuff. Where did you grow up?
Slaughter: I was born in Ohio. And I ask everybody, please don’t tell anybody that. Youngstown specifically, which used to be a big steel mill town, and now as far as I can tell it’s all mafia and gangs. We moved to Charlotte when I was four, so I claim the South. I grew up in Charlotte, I went to Catholic school in grade school and high school and then I went away to college. And other than that, I’ve been here in Charlotte.
Ralph: And you run a construction business. What kind of construction?
Slaughter: It’s a second-generation, family-owned construction business. We are a building exterior restoration and waterproof company. We’re a specialty contractor. We have an office in Myrtle Beach, too, and we have about 100 employees.
Ralph: And you took over the business from your dad?
Slaughter: That’s right. He started it in ’93, and I came to work here after school in ’99, and I’ve been here ever since.
Ralph: Compare and contrast: Taking over for Dredd and taking over for your dad. Both sound intimidating.
Slaughter: It’s a great question, and I use the answer to explain to people what some of my concerns are. The first thing I’ll say is the day that you become the boss, I can imagine it’s probably like walking in the White House the first time as president. You go in, sit down. All right! I’m the boss now. It feels pretty good—until that first person shows up at your door and says, Boss, we’ve got a problem, what do you want to do?
And then you’re like, shoot, honeymoon’s over.
It’s been a little bit like that. But the real comparison is this: Just like F3, my dad started this company, and for decades he was the culture of this company, he was able to reach across and touch every aspect of who we were. He knew all the employees. He knew their kids’ names. He knew all the vendors and all the customers, and he had first-hand knowledge of all the projects that we did. As the company started to grow, just like F3 is growing, that became impossible.
For example, by the time Dredd retired from being Nantan, the majority of people had never met him. The question becomes, and it’s the question I was asked when I took over the company: What’s your biggest concern? And the answer was figuring out how to successfully continue to spread the exact same culture that got us here.
And my answer both with the company and with F3 is you’ve got to surround yourself with people who share the same ethics, values and mission that you do.
Ralph: You don’t want to be Dredd 2.0, you want to be Slaughter 1.0. How do you manage that?
Slaughter: First of all, there is no other Dredd. I’ve never met another person who can motivate a group of folks by his words like Dredd can. I’ve never met somebody who focuses so much on walking the walk.
It’s important to know, and I don’t think anybody would disagree with me, that I’m not going to be Dredd. Plus, it’s a different organization. The structure that we now have is more akin to a company. And I know a lot of folks don’t like to hear that. A lot of people say, hey man don’t make this thing too corporate. It’s just a dirty word in some folks’ mind, especially when they fell in love with what they perceived as just kind of a loose organization where dudes show up in a darkened parking lot.
My focus is going to be on managing our risks, just like in my company. That’s something that I know is foreboding. That’s something we really have to get our arms around, and I don’t know exactly what that looks like. I just know that we’re becoming too large and too popular for that not to be a concern.
I want to make sure that we have our arms wrapped around that. And I want to preserve what we have for future generations. I think that’s one of the important things of a company or any kind of an organization is to build it so it’s generational. That includes protecting the intellectual property, that includes protecting anything else of value that we have, such as contact lists, things of that nature.
And I want to make sure that we have something that’s scalable. We’re in the process right now with our shared leadership team of developing some specific growth goals, between one and five years, and I can tell you right now that number is going to be huge. We’ve got to create something with a little bit of structure behind it, without impeding the starfish model.
The story that I tell is I’m glad that I joined F3 in 2012 in Metro. Because what I saw happen was for the longest time all it was, was a workout. There was no Q source, there was no whetstone, there were really no community interactive initiatives around here to speak of.
It was just a bunch of guys getting together and working out. And it took a really long time (to grow beyond that), and we stagnated for a while. On Day 1, you should get your nickname, almost throw up at the workout and be told where the next Q source meeting is or what the group of guys is doing to pick up trash or help a little old lady move into her house on Saturday. Those are the things that I think help accelerate an individual, and that’s what I want regions to have access to. And there’s lots of different initiatives we’re working on to help with that.
Ralph: You have said, “F3 transformed my life.” That’s true for thousands of men. In your case specifically, how did it transform your life?
Slaughter: Part of my story includes recovery. I’m 15 years deep now in drug and alcohol recovery. I got sober in 2005 I didn’t find F3 until 2011, which is good. Back in, 2005 I would have never shown up outside.
But I got here, and for the same reasons a lot of guys do—I was looking for something.
I didn’t know what. I was told about F3, and somebody mentioned that maybe it would work for me, and I had no idea what “worked” would mean.
My life was pretty good. I had a house and a career and a family and those types of things. But I was suffering from Sad Clown syndrome. I was going to the Y at lunch time, running around the block a couple times, and then going and lifting weights by myself.
I had some friends, and some connections, but I had a lot of untapped potential. The first thing that happened when I got to F3 is I met some folks that got to know me better than anybody else in my life knew me.
After not too many months, there were some folks who, when I didn’t show up, they called looking for me. Some folks would call following a bad day like hey man you weren’t yourself, you OK? And that meant a lot to me, because I hadn’t really had that in my life.
The next thing it did was it dovetailed perfectly with my recovery. There’s a ton of guys in recovery in F3. We’re everywhere. And I think this is a great outlet for that.
I’m a big believer in helping the body, mind and spirit. The body is the easy part. The mind follows suit. The spirit is something entirely different. And for somebody who struggled with addiction, the spirit is the thing that gets crushed the absolute most. So being in F3, and having that outlet with people who you know have your back with daily challenges, whether it’s working out in the freezing cold or whatever, that lifts your spirit. And so I think it has enhanced my recovery.
And then fast forward to me and you sitting here talking about being the Nantan and CEO of F3. If you would ask me what I thought about that back when I joined or showed up in 2012, I would have said, why would you ask me that question?
Yet here we are. I think that’s the embodiment of what F3 has to offer, taking somebody to and past their perceived potential in life, everything from being a family man, being a boss and employee to certainly leadership potential.
One of the greatest treasures I have in F3 is I get guys reaching out to me all the time, whether it’s guys I know in Charlotte, or guys I’ve met at GrowRuck or people who just know of me, and they have questions about their lives. To go from the guy I was before I got sober in 2005, where nobody wanted to ask me anything, to a place now where people value my opinions on my experience on how to negotiate this thing called life, is flippin’ amazing.
Ralph: You can look at that two ways. You can be thankful for that. Or you can think, what the hell do I know? That’s pressure if guys are asking you important questions like that. How do you balance that?
Slaughter: A long time ago, a guy told me if you want to learn how to be a gentleman, act like a gentleman. In this scenario, I try to live my life the best that I can. I try to do all the right things. I’ve got a successful company. I’ve got a happy family. I’m in good shape. We’ve done a lot of good things with F3. And I think that qualifies me.
I don’t try to necessarily tell folks what I think that they should do. I try to stick with my own life experiences. And the way that I feel on the inside, going from a guy who couldn’t look in the mirror because he couldn’t stand the sight of himself to, at the end of the day, a guy who on a pretty regular basis can say, that was a good day, man. You gave it your all, you helped some people, and you should be proud. I think that qualifies you to give advice to folks.
Ralph: I find it fascinating when I interview people and they have the courage to say, I couldn’t stand the sight of my own face in the mirror. They just say that out loud as if there was nothing to it. It takes a hell of a lot of courage to say that out loud. How did you become able to be that open and transparent?
Slaughter: It’s a miracle is what happened. There was a time in my life when I was positive, deep down in the pit of my stomach where the truth lives: I knew that the things that I had done in my life and the way I had treated people were going to dog me for the rest of my days. It was a time in my life I was absolutely ashamed of.
They were big debts in my life. Debts that I thought would weigh me down forever. Through the process of getting sober and getting involved in F3, those same stories that I was ashamed of became my greatest assets. I can sit down with another man struggling with some of the same things I’ve struggled with, whether it is sobriety or challenges in your marriage. And I can tell the stories that I’ve experienced myself. Those debts become these assets—assets that can help another person.
They’re actually good things. To change something that I was so embarrassed about, the reason I couldn’t look myself in the mirror, to change those same feelings into assets that I can use to help somebody else is, is the miracle.
That’s what happened, and that’s why I’m able to say that. As I was going through life from the time I was in college until I got sober, I knew who I wanted to be. Every day, I was moving in the absolute wrong direction. I knew what I had to do to get there, but every single day I couldn’t do it. And for me, the only way I could live with myself was to get drunk, because I knew that I had failed in my journey.
Eventually I figured out how to move in that right direction. And those things that I knew that I needed to do to become the man that I always knew I could be finally started to happen. And it didn’t happen until I changed my ways. So now I still have that model of a person, I still have that improved version of myself that I want to be on a daily basis. And when you’re moving in that direction as opposed to the opposite direction, that’s a great transformation.
Ralph: What is the biggest challenge you face every day, and how do you go about overcoming it?
Slaughter: Figuring out what I need to be doing. That’s my biggest challenge is. There’s a lot of things that cross my desk. I also sit on a couple of boards for trade associations I’m involved with. There’s a lot of stuff that comes at me, and I don’t ever have enough time to do all of this stuff. Figuring out what’s important and how to get that done, whether it’s something I need to do myself or I need to get somebody to help me with, is my biggest daily challenge.
Ralph: You made a joke on Twitter that you have the number of AOs running on your computer like the stock ticker. What are some other important metrics, and what are some goals we’ve set for them?
Slaughter: What’s important about the way F3 is run is it’s run by a shared leadership team. That’s what makes these types of decisions, and then we have an expanded group that is mostly under Dark Helmet. And we don’t make any unilateral decisions. We certainly don’t tell regions what to do. But as a group, we’re coming up with a list of things that we want to accomplish.
We want this list of goals to have three qualities. We want it to be specific. We want it to be measurable. And we want it to be attainable and easy to communicate.
The first one is specific growth goals, because part of what we’re trying to do is to put this into the hands of as many men as we can. We don’t have those numbers yet, but we’re going to come up with that.
Second thing is we want to be completely transparent. We’re going to come up with a corporate report from 2020 for the F3 Foundation and the Nation. It’s going to have every dollar in, every dollar out, and a specific outline of the goals.
We’ve got a whole long list of goals. I’m not going to go through all of them, but probably the most significant thing that we’re doing this year is we’re hiring our first employee, the executive director of the Foundation, which is being funded by the generosity of the Give to Give campaign we had last year. We’ve got that individual. We’re finalizing the deal right now, and we expect to have them in place in March. And that’s really going to be significant.
Ralph: The hiring of the first employee—what does that portend for the future of F3?
Slaughter: We have a lot of folks that that quote unquote work for F3. Those are contractors. Nobody’s an actual employee. We still have a lot of volunteers, and we always will. But at the end of the day, we need some accountability, and you really only get that by paying people.
So now we’re going to have an employee, and that changes a lot of things, because we can’t say we’re just a purely volunteer organization anymore.
A lot of that is perception, but I think that will be heavily outweighed by the things that this position will accomplish. To be honest with you, fast forwarding not too long in the future, this individual may have a staff of other employees. But the foundation is the crux of community involvement that the men of F3 are so passionate about, and it’s what we’re supposed to be involved in. The word community is in our mission statement. This is really going to help not only fund the activities that men are doing across the country, but help share ideas, help connect people.
We don’t want folks to reinvent the wheel in every city that F3 goes to. We want to give them a playbook for Hey you want to start a workout at a homeless shelter? Here’s how it’s been done in other places. You want to start a disaster relief operation in your coastal town? Here’s how they did it in Texas or Florida or North Carolina. Here’s the budget here’s, here’s how they put it together. Those are the types of things that we want to be able to provide to them. And it’s going to take a full-time dedicated individual to put all that together.
Ralph What do you want out of day-to-day PAX? What can we do? What is our role in the future of F3?
Slaughter: I think that it’s important for people to understand that F3 really is more than just the workout. PAX are called to change their lives. They’re called to be better versions of the guy they were yesterday.
I guess it’s OK if you just show up and just want to get in shape. But I don’t think people who are only after that stick around too long. My challenge to everybody is to get involved, and to do the things that will make you a better version of who you are, and that will affect everybody around you at home, at work, in your community, and certainly the other guys that are showing up for the first time at workouts.
It’s just like I learned when I was getting sober. I went to AA meetings to help me. And then eventually somebody told me. Hey man, you know, you got to keep showing up. And I said, well I don’t know that I need it any more. They said, well it’s not for you it’s, it’s for the new you—the guy walking in the door.
The same thing is true for F3. If it’s a cold morning that you may not want to get out there and maybe you can take a day off, and it wouldn’t put a blip on your radar. But maybe somebody else is going to show up that morning, and you may need to be there for them. I think that we have a responsibility being in F3 to do all those things.
Ralph: We seem to be going through a transformation here in my AO in St. Louis. We have a handful of guys who are changing right before my eyes. Hearing them tell their stories, is really empowering for me. And it reminds me of me. I was probably six F3 workouts deep, and I went on a gnarly hike. I noticed about halfway through that I was handing it physically way better than normal. Even after six workouts, I was seeing a change in myself. What is your wow, this is really good for me light bulb moment in F3?
Slaughter: Gosh. I think for me it was when I was on fire. I wanted to go talk to a lot of folks about F3, headlock some guys. I was on a promotional tour of sorts. It turned out to be more a policy of attraction rather than promotion. I was having people come up to me and saying hey what, what are you been doing? You look different. You look in great shape.
And not only that but my demeanor changed. I had a week where three different people asked me about my demeanor and outlook—using those two words. It was people that I knew professionally. And that was when I knew that there was something happening.
Ralph You have a bit of a legend here in St. Louis. You crushed everybody in the burpee challenge in GrowRuck Kansas City. Two-part question. Have you spilled merlot in a beatdown, and what’s the I can’t take another step-est moment that you’ve had in F3?
Slaughter: Yes, I have spilled merlot. I think four or five times, twice at GrowRucks. The rest were at workouts, and I think one of the times I didn’t feel good. The other ones I just pushed myself.
The first thing I figured out about F3 is the mental part, and that’s what GrowRuck is about. It’s designed to take you well beyond what you think your physical and mental limitations are.
I was in Chimbote on the F3 mission trip to Peru. And those trips are packed full of activity from well before sunup to well after sundown. You are exercising with folks, you’re building houses, you’re traveling around.
When I was there the second year we were doing all of those things, and in addition to that, we were pre-running. We had an hour workout in the morning, and we were having guys go out and run. Toward the end of the week. I didn’t think I could run that next morning. I was so exhausted I couldn’t sleep, which is what happens when you’re in Chimbote. But that next morning, these three brothers wanted to show up and run with us.
I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I went running. And we ended up running five and a half miles before the workout. It was another example of my body always has more to offer than I think it does. I was convinced that there was no way I could do it that morning, and I’d never felt that way before.
Ralph: Wow. In the transfer of power ceremony, you used the words commitment and promise. What is your commitment and what is your promise to us?
Slaughter: No. 1 is I promise to conduct myself in a way that honors the men that wear the logo on their chest and carry what it means in their heart. I think that’s an important thing to do. A lot of people would assume that I would be that way, but it’s something I want to say out loud.
The second thing is I want to make sure that everybody understands that my primary commitment is protection. Protecting the brand, the logo, and all of the men that are out there. I’m not here to change the way that we do workouts. I’m not here to change what it all means, I’m here to make what it already is continue. I think those are some pretty important promises.
Ralph One of the things Dredd said to you was take charge when you’re in charge. How are you going to apply that?
Slaughter: That’s a hard question because my previous role that I’ve done the last couple years as Chief Operating Officer, which is now The Mighty Lance here in Charlotte, I was back of house. That’s what I was supposed to be doing. And there’s a lot of stuff that happens back of house. Now I’m front of house. And that transformation is difficult.
There’s things that happen on a daily basis. And when I stop moving it’s like in the Forrest Gump movie: When I stop running everybody behind me stops running.
For me, when in charge take charge means keep running. And even if I’m not sure that the path I’m going down is right, it’s better to be moving down the wrong path than to be stopped and doing nothing.
And it means showing up. Dredd was a great example. He did all of the GrowRucks. He was under a log. I want to keep going to those things. With my business, I get to travel to some different places. I want to make sure when I’m in a different city, I’m at an F3 workout. I want to let guys know so I can meet them and meet with the shared leadership teams to make sure that we identify the goals, make sure everybody knows what they are and then make sure we follow through with them.
Ralph: I don’t want to blow sunshine up your rear end or anything. But if you rolled up to a beatdown and I was the Q, I’d think, oh shit, Slaughter’s here. Is my beat down good enough for him? When you show up for a workout, people know who you are. How are you able to participate like one of the guys when quite frankly, you are one of the guys but you’re not either.
Slaughter: The first answer to that is what I’ll call a problem with Charlotte Metro. Metro is the absolute most competitive region that I’ve ever been to. When I go everywhere else, I do the same thing, or I used to do the same thing I did in Metro: You try to win, whether it’s a Jacob’s Ladder or a race across the parking lot or doing 20 burpees. You do that somewhere else and people are like, Hey, man, what’s your hurry? What’s your deal, buddy?
When I go different places, I try to concentrate on the people that are there, the camaraderie that’s occurring. Trying to be first is a little bit of a selfish act, but it’s ingrained in who I am because that’s what we do in Metro.
The most common thing that I see is people might be counting cadence incorrectly or something. After the workout I’ll go talk to him. Or if I know them I might just call them out in front of everybody. That’s how that goes down.
Ralph: What are you excited about in your new role?
Slaughter: I’m excited about the same thing I always get excited about—more guys getting excited. When I go to a city and I meet somebody or I talk to somebody on the phone, and they’re pumped up, whether they’re new or like FIAB in Pittsburgh, who has been in a long time—
Ralph. That dude is on fire, isn’t he?
Slaughter: Yeah, he is man, just all the time. And there’s a lot of guys like that. I’m excited to get more people who, as of today don’t have any idea what F3 is or haven’t joined yet. I’m excited to get more people to join so that they can get excited.
Ralph Another thing you were said is committed to extend the reach and impact. How and to where? Do we have somewhere we aren’t that we want to be, or is it going to be or is it going to be more case-by-case basis?
Slaughter: That’s a good question. That is something that we are quantifying right now. For the first several years, we grew by an initiative called LEAP, which is where we went to a part of the country where there was no F3 anywhere around it. And now we’re running out of those kind of places, and it’s more of a concentric growth.
Cities are creeping into cities that are an hour or two away. That’s more of what we want to do now. There aren’t too many places in the country that are barren of F3 workouts. There’s a few of them. We’re identifying those. We’re helping empower existing regions to do that creep concentric growth out to the surrounding areas.
We’re creating more of a leadership organization. For example, now we’re going to have folks that are in charge of different parts of the country. We’ve got Gobbler out west. We want to do the same in the Northeast and the Midwest so the Nantans in that area have somebody a little bit closer to communicate with. And then those folks that are the heads of the regions, they’ll have somebody back in the “home office” to communicate with. All that’s doing is making this thing more scalable.
Ralph: If I’ve learned one thing in F3, it’s how much fun being miserable is. I had no idea. What have you learned about shared suffering in F3?
Slaughter: The one thing I tell everybody is if you haven’t been to a workout in the pouring down cold rain, you’re really missing out. Because there’s absolutely nothing like it. It’s miserable. It’s not where the human body is meant to be for too long.
Shared suffering like that changes the dynamic of a relationship. And what that does is it collides you pretty close together, whether you like it or not, and you can look that man in the eyes and know you’ve shared something like that. And that just means that you know you got somebody that’s got your back, more so than anybody else in your life that hasn’t had that type of an experience together. So it’s important.
Ralph: I asked Dredd this same question, using GrowRuck Naperville as the jumping off point because all three of us were there. We hiked through a river in the absolute pouring rain in the middle of the night, carrying heavy crap the whole time. Flutter kicks in the river, merkins in the river, up literally all night, all kinds of crazy stuff. And it’s one of the fondest memories of our lives. What the hell is the matter with us?
Slaughter: I think it goes back to something inside of our just inane makeup. We were originally built to be hunters and gatherers. We were designed to go out and do those types of things. Our bodies are water resistant for a reason.
Society has completely removed most of those things. And there’s something deep in the back of our brain, it’s missing that. I think your brain is saying, hey guy, you got all this stuff, but you’re not using any of it, this isn’t cool. You’ve got to hone your skills a little bit.
I think there’s something in our brain that says thank goodness he’s going back to the olden days, back to what men’s bodies were meant to do. And that’s to suffer a little bit, and then to get through it. I think that’s what’s happening. I think that’s why we’re crazy like that and like hard stuff.
Ralph: My last question is always what didn’t I ask you that I should have? What else do we need to know?
Slaughter: Same thing as in my business. I want guys to know that they don’t need to be intimidated to reach out if they have a question or want to talk about something. There’s lots of people in the organization and depending on what it is, I might send you somewhere else. But I’m an open book, and I want to be an open book. I’m pretty easy to find on Slack and Twitter or whatnot. I think that’s important because, just like in my business, the good ideas are coming from the guys out there doing the work, not from somebody sitting behind the desk somewhere.